MLB Betting Preview | Pitchers to Buy, Fade This Week, Including Shohei Ohtani, Zack Wheeler

MLB Betting Preview | Pitchers to Buy, Fade This Week, Including Shohei Ohtani, Zack Wheeler article feature image

John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Shohei Ohtani

The daily grind of MLB betting can be grueling, but one way to gain an edge is by looking ahead at pitching matchups worth targeting.

As you know, a starting pitching matchup is the most integral part of assessing a game from a value standpoint.

While most sportsbooks don’t post lines until approximately a day in advance — once starting pitching matchups are confirmed — if you’re on top of the ball, you can jump on pitchers with value, before the markets adjust post-opening, and create positive ROI.

This week, I break down two pitchers I am selling early on before moving on to a pair of arms I am looking to back as the first week of July comes to a close:

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Shohei Ohtani, Angels

Projected Start: Tuesday vs. San Diego Padres (Joe Musgrove)

I cannot believe I am writing this, but I do believe that this is a great spot to back a Padres team that continues to be the most puzzling in baseball.

There's value in fading Ohtani nearly every time he takes the mound because of how much public support he gets. While it's not smart to blindly fade the righty, there are spots to jump at. Unlike last year, when he had a 2.68 xERA, Ohtani's expected metrics are in the low-to-mid 3s. His xERA (3.38) and xFIP (3.40) are just under half-run higher than actual (3.02).

We'll start with what's great with Ohtani on the mound. He is one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball and generates swings and misses at an elite rate. His xBA has dipped below .200 for the first time in his career and the increased usage in his sinker has led to not only more ground balls, but it's been his main put-away pitch.

Now for the concerns. When Ohtani made his debut, he would run into occasional command issues. While the last two years he's been able to find the strike zone more and not give out free passes, his walk rate has jumped above 10%. A lot of it has to do with his inability to generate chases out of the zone. He is in the bottom 20% of all pitchers in chase rate.

And most notably, his barrel rate has jumped 3%. His HR/FB rate has nearly doubled this season and he's run into occasional issues with limiting the long ball after a dominant April.

The Padres have plenty of powerful bats in their lineup and over the last two weeks, we've seen the offense start to come alive. They are 11th in wRC+, 10th in wOBA and sixth in BB%. They are known for their discipline at the plate and ability to take pitches and work a deep count. That could become an issue for Ohtani, who hasn't gotten many chases and can see his walks add up over a start.

He also matches up with Joe Musgrove, a pitcher I am particularly high on. He ranks in the top 8% of all pitchers in hard-hit rate (30.5) and despite seeing his strikeouts dip this season, he's shored up on his barrels. His xBA and xSLG are near-identical to last season where he posted a 2.93 ERA. Yet this year, his ERA is up at 3.80.

Musgrove is due for positive regression. His xERA is down at a career-best 3.16, struggling from a BABIP (.316) that's 20 points higher than his career average. His ground ball rate remains in the mid-40s and after a slow start working back from injury, Musgrove has been dominant for San Diego in June (2.25 ERA in six starts). He has given up just one home run in that span.

We should see Ohtani open up as a road favorite and I will be looking to fade him at some capacity — whether it's through an over or Padres ML.

Yonny Chirinos, Rays

Projected Start: Wednesday vs. Philadelphia Phillies (Taijuan Walker)

Due to injuries, the Rays have been forced to throw Yonny Chirinos regularly in the rotation. And as I've written about countless times throughout the season, there will be plenty of spots to fade the right-hander who continually outperforms expectation.

Chirinos' xERA is up at 5.72 and his xFIP not too far behind at 5.47. Two runs lower sits his actual ERA (3.64) and if you look at his Baseball Savant profile, there isn't an area in which he's above average. Chirinos has a career-worst xBA (.280) and is bottom 12% in xSLG. His strikeout and whiff rate are in the bottom 1% of all pitchers and he relies on inducing soft contact to mitigate damage.

The issue? Chirinos' average exit velocity is 90.6 mph. Yet, he has a .237 batting average on balls in play, a number that is unsustainable and will negatively regress in due time. He also has awful home/road splits, posting a 5.59 ERA at Tropicana Field as opposed to a 2.57 ERA on the road.

Whether it's backing the Phillies on the team total or their ML straight up, this is the perfect spot to fade Chirinos. Taijuan Walker enters off a dominant June where he made six starts (1.50 ERA) in which the Phillies went 5-1 behind the right-hander.

Over the last two weeks, the Phillies have been ninth in wRC+, 10th in isolated power and seventh in wOBA. Their offense has been in rhythm and seeing the ball well, which is a recipe for success against Chirinos.

Freddy Peralta, Brewers

Projected Start: Thursday vs. Chicago Cubs (Marcus Stroman)

The first half of the season has not been kind to Freddy Peralta. He has a 4.67 ERA and has seen his home run rate nearly double from a season ago. It seemed like Peralta had established himself as a top-of-the-rotation arm, but the success just hasn't been the same as the season nears the All-Star break.

Part of it has been some misfortune. Peralta's xERA (4.06) and xFIP (4.14) do show he's has been pitching better than expected. Despite a near-exact same ground ball rate and an increase to his velocity, Peralta has seen more balls in the air leave the park. His barrel rate has nearly tripled from 2022.

Aside from that difference, Peralta has been a similar pitcher compared to years past. His two main pitches — the fastball and slider — carry Stuff+ ratings of 118 or better, which is rather impressive. His average exit velocity has only increased ever-so-slightly and he remains an above-average pitcher in xBA, strikeout and whiff rate.

I am looking to buy Peralta here, especially at home. His ERA is over two runs better at American Family Field (3.75) as opposed to on the road (5.82) and now draws the Chicago Cubs in their worser split.

Marcus Stroman also takes the mound for Chicago and he's been a pitcher I've written about multiple times this season as a negative regression candidate. That is starting to come to fruition here.

In his last two starts, Stroman has thrown nine combined innings of eight-run ball. He's given up 13 hits and walked three, all while not giving up a home run. In fact, the last home run Stroman gave up was to the Mets back in May.

He is a ground-ball pitcher by nature, throwing a hard sinker nearly half the time. His ground ball rate has crept toward 60%, a big reason he's been able to mitigate damage and get out of situations with runners on base whether it be through double plays or timely grounders to keep runners stagnant.

But there are some concerns from Stroman which I have highlighted previously. His xERA is up at 3.71 — nearly a run higher than actual — and he ranks in the bottom third of all pitchers in average exit velocity and whiff rate. Stroman's numbers are similar to years past which is why I expect his ERA to continually rise until it reaches that mid-to-high 3s level. His xBA (.252) is right around the same as last season and his walk rate has jumped 2.5%.

This game should be a near-PK between Peralta and Stroman and I give the edge across the board to Milwaukee here. I will be backing the Brew Crew in their NL Central bout with Chicago.

Zack Wheeler, Phillies

Projected Start: Friday vs. Miami Marlins (Sandy Alcantara)

I am expecting Zack Wheeler to bounce back on Friday night after struggling in two straight starts.

The right-hander has an impressive profile. Despite a 4.03 ERA, Wheeler's advanced metrics are considerably lower. His xERA is down at 3.38 and his FIP is 2.82. He's been BABIP'd to death (.326) and has an unsustainable 67.4 LOB% — his career average is 73.8.

Wheeler has elite command and has induced soft contact consistently. His strikeout rate remains in the high 20s and he's cut down on his barrel rate (5.4%) from last season. His xBA and xSLG have only slightly increased from a season ago when he posted a 2.82 ERA (3.10 xERA).

All this to say that Wheeler has been more unlucky than anything. His velocity remains the same from last year and he introduced a sweeper that has been extremely effective (.201 xBA, .362 xSLG). It's not like he's walking more batters or being barreled a lot more — which would explain a weak first half of the season — which gives me confidence that he will bounce back as the season continues on.

The same can't be said for reigning Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. He was due for negative regression and an inevitable fall from grace after a workhorse season where he posted a 2.28 ERA across 228 2/3 innings. But no one saw this coming.

Alcantara has a 4.93 ERA through three months. He should see some positive regression with expected metrics in the low 4s and his LOB% an uncharacteristic 62.4, nearly 10% less than his career average. But his decline in strikeouts and struggles to limit hard hits is a real concern.

Alcantara's xBA has jumped to .262, a near-50 point increase from last season (.215). His xSLG has neared .400 and both his barrel and hard-hit rate have taken a step back, too.

Alcantara was a big fade candidate entering the season and we were able to profit off fading the right-hander. I do expect Alcantara to positively regress in the coming months — he's a high 3s, low 4s type of pitcher — but I hold Wheeler in much higher regard. Whether it be a Marlins TT under or Phillies ML, I will be looking to back Wheeler here against a Marlins team that continues to overperform and remain comfortable in the first Wild Card spot.

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